Welcome to a new year with the Section

By Amanda Conn
General counsel, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission

With summer ended, our Section Council will be meeting to plan for the upcoming year, and I congratulate our two new Section Council members — Kirstin Lustila, an assistant attorney general in the State Treasurer’s Office, and Neil Murphy, deputy county attorney for St. Mary’s County.

As a quick recap, our annual State and Local Government Law Institute was held virtually on June 17. We had terrific turnout for a virtual event – close to 80 people joined us.

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“Mudlarking” and “plogging” may threaten archeological sites

By Elizabeth Adams
Prince George’s County Office of Law

Mudlarking” is a hobby that finds its origins in “street urchins” that searched the banks of the Thames for coins or other valuables taken by the river and later returned to the land through the ebb and flow of the tides. “Plogging” is a more modern construct; it is a Swedish term coined circa 2016 by Erik Ahlström from “plocka upp” or “to pick up,” and is defined as a combination of jogging and picking up litter.

The commonality between mudlarking and plogging is the sometimes subjective decision as to what to carry away, whether deemed trash or treasure. And in both the cases of overzealous mudlarkers or ploggers, governments may find that undiscovered archaeological sites, or discovered sites that are not well secured, can suffer.

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Online dispute resolution in the courts increases access while saving resources

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

Conflict management principles can provide solutions for ongoing disputes, and even lead to the creation of dispute system designs to handle categories of disputes. The use of computers has led to the creation of online dispute resolution (“ODR”) processes as well.

The growth of ODR has in many ways tracked other broad changes in the practice of law. While litigators are comfortable with court systems involving in-person hearings and filing documents at the clerk’s office, during the pandemic, those involved in court hearings grew accustomed to online Zoom hearings, and most county and district courts now accept online court filings and allow online review of court documents.

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Court of Special Appeals holds county immune in well contamination case

By Stephanie Pankiewicz, associate county attorney
and
Patricia Kane, chief, Division of Insurance Defense Litigation
Office of the County Attorney, Montgomery County

The Court of Special Appeals has affirmed dismissal of a negligence claim arising out of saltwater contamination of a private well. In Creighton v. Montgomery Cty., the plaintiff claimed her well water was contaminated by the County’s alleged excessive use of salt to treat the road adjacent to her property during winter snowstorms.

The Circuit Court granted the County’s motion to dismiss the claim on both governmental-immunity and statutory-immunity grounds. The Court of Special Appeals also held on review that the County was entitled to both forms of immunity.

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Message from the Chair

By Amanda Conn
General counsel, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission

The Section Council is excited to announce our virtual State and Local Government Institute tomorrow (Friday, June 17th). We considered an in-person event, but faced challenges in finding a space that is large enough for members to spread out while trying to provide a hybrid option for those who wouldn’t feel comfortable attending.

On top of that, the overall unpredictability of the pandemic led us to decide to have a virtual Institute this year. The one benefit of virtual is that it is easier for speakers to participate on panels, because they don’t have to worry about distance or travel time.

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Robert Levan, informal “dean” of municipal attorneys, passes away

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

Robert Levan — father of Section Council member Elissa Levan — passed away yesterday, April 28, 2022. I know all of us in the Section join in offering condolences to Elissa. Bob Levan was known as the informal “dean” of municipal attorneys, and served as a mentor (with incredible patience) for anyone who called to ask for his help. He was indeed granted a lifetime award seven years ago by the Maryland Municipal Attorneys Association for the mentoring and development of his colleagues during more than 35 years of exceptional service and counsel to the Maryland Municipal League, as well as cities and towns across the state.

Courts have discretion to consider moot issues on appeal

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

The Court of Appeals, in In re S.F., ____ Md. ____, 2022 WL 324890 (February 3, 2022), recently confirmed that, even when an issue is moot, courts still have discretion to consider it. The decision involved a “no suspension from school” probation condition imposed on a minor, who asserted it was impermissibly vague as it provided no specific standards identifying when the minor could be suspended. 

The defendant thus argued that the conditions of probation granted the school board excessive discretion in determining whether the defendant could be suspended and thus in violation of the probation conditions. However, prior to the appellate argument, the minor successfully completed probation, and the State moved for dismissal based on the lack of any controversy between the parties. 

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“Lunch and Learn” Discusses Religious Exemptions from Vaccine Mandates

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

At the Section’s latest “lunch and learn” session on February 25, Michael Foreman, Law Professor and Director of the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic at Pennsylvania State University School of Law, spoke about religious exemptions from vaccine mandates. He pointed out that, while vaccinations can be required, an employer cannot, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, discriminate based on religion. 

A “sincerely held religious belief” is required for an exemption. Prof. Foreman advised that general anti-vaccination beliefs unrelated to religious convictions are not considered religious beliefs, but noted that the EEOC does not recommend challenging the individual’s assertion of a religious belief. If an employee raises a valid objection based on religion to a mandate, the employer must make a reasonable accommodation unless doing so would cause the employer “undue hardship.” 

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Virtual Law Institute to Address Police Reform, PIA

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

The Section will be holding the annual Law Institute in late May. The Section Council has decided this event will be virtual, and topics are expected to include a summary of the General Assembly police reform efforts from last year, as well as Public Information Act changes, as both will be effective as of July 1, 2022. Additionally, General Assembly and Supreme Court updates will be planned. Also included will be a review of recent state and federal court decisions. Watch this space for further details, and Section members will receive invitations for the Law Institute when the exact date is finalized.

Message from the Chair

By Amanda Conn
General counsel, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission

The Section Council committees have continued working on upcoming programs for our members, reviewing bills during the Maryland General Assembly session identified by the MSBA as having particular impact on local and state government, and, importantly, exploring ways to have more of our members involved in the committee work. 

We are now in the planning stages of our annual State and Local Government Institute, which we will be having later in the spring.  The date has not yet been determined. The Section Council has decided that, given the unpredictable nature of the pandemic and not knowing when government buildings will reopen to the public and under what conditions, we will be planning a virtual Institute. 

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